The Man About Town cover star on returning as a superhero in the second season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.
Tom Hopper is back playing superhero on our screens in season two of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, this time set in the 1960s. Ahead of its release, the actor sits down with Rosanna Dodds to talk dynamics on set and what we can expect from the series, as well as as his upcoming podcast with Robert Sheehan.
Two things happened when Tom Hopper got offered the part of Luther Hargreeves in Netflix’s American superhero show The Umbrella Academy. First, he started eating three avocados a day — a bid to come close to depictions of his character’s body in Gerard Way’s comic series of the same name. And secondly — a direct result of the first point — an Instagram account (@tomhoppersarms) was set up in appreciation of the British actor’s physique.
Man About Town Cover Star Tom Hopper On Umbrella Academy
The Umbrella Academy was a Netflix gamble. Zany and weighty in equal measure, many fans feared that the comic’s charm might not translate onto the small screen. How wrong they were — the show ranked in the top three of Netflix’s most popular series releases of 2019, second only to Stranger Things and The Witcher.
Born in Leicestershire, Hopper is without the gloomy bravado of his character in The Umbrella Academy, which has just dropped its second series. At six foot and five inches, the actor has found his niche in fantasy — first as Sir Percival in the BBC’s fantasy-adventure drama Merlin, and then as the swashbuckling Billy Bones in Black Sails. But in truth, Hopper is a self-described “family man” — a husband, father, and soon-to-be author of a book about clean eating. It’s appropriate, then, that his path has led him here — to a series that’s as much about family as it is about fantasy.
Ahead of the release of season two, we caught up with the actor to talk about what’s in store.
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The Umbrella Academy is back! If you were to put yourself in your fans’ shoes, what would you say they’re hoping to see? What are you getting nagged about the most?
At first people wanted to know whether we’d be coming back as the kids, which has probably been squashed now as everyone has seen the trailer and knows that we’re adults in the 1960s… But if I were in their shoes, I’d want to make sure that all the things I loved about the first season — the family dynamics and comedic elements — were taken further. The superhero element is just a seasoning on top, really.
Do you think those things have been taken further?
I do. I really don’t think fans will be disappointed. Well, I certainly hope they’re not! I’ve seen the whole season now and it’s in great shape. If you fell in love with these characters in season one, then you’re only going to love them more by the end of season two.
The last season ended on a pretty big cliffhanger — and a lot of destruction. You could say that a lot of that was your character’s fault. Is that something that he’s going to have to wrestle with over the next series?
Yes. Luther is carrying a lot of guilt, but that doesn’t come to fruition until a couple of episodes in. It’s something that he’s been holding onto, along with the guilt of being power hungry and feeling like he needs to be number one. He wants to let that go. At the beginning of season two, for the first time ever, he’s without the structure of The Academy. He’s out in the open world, he’s had to get a real job, and he’s at the bottom rung of the ladder working as a henchman for a guy in the underground boxing world. He doesn’t know what it is to be part of The Academy anymore, because as far as he’s concerned, everyone is dead. This is his new life. So when his siblings turn up he’s almost reluctant to be back with them. But one thing Luther realises is that there’s a difference between the family element of The Academy and The Academy itself, and ultimately it’s the family element that he wants. Still, there’s a lot of stuff he has to tackle to get over that guilt.
So would you say that he copes quite well with finding himself in the 1960s?
In a way he’s more content. Luther needs purpose. So on the one hand he’s gained purpose, but he’s also found a weird sort of acceptance in being without his family. When he starts to realise that the rest of them are actually there, it’s a weird shift for him to think about whether he actually wants that. That’s a big challenge for him. He’s not sure whether he actually wants to be part of saving the world anymore… A lot of that is to do with feeling like he screwed up; he’s emotionally scarred. That’s the thing with Luther — he’s a big dude and on the outside he looks like a tough, impressive guy, but actually he’s quite sensitive. I think he has a nice journey this season. There’s repent, acceptance and dealing with that guilt.
I think it’s clear — at least from this interview — that you’re a totally different person to Luther. Is it ever taxing to have to play someone so different to yourself, someone that’s very troubled?
I feel like I’m relatively good at turning on the acting switch. I know a lot of actors who struggle with switching off their character. I suppose having kids is a big part of that, because you can’t take that angst back home with you. He is very different to me in a lot of ways, but I do feel that Luther is a bit like my past self, certainly my teenage self. I went through a lot of things like body dysmorphia; I didn’t feel like the way I looked on the outside. The inner angst that I might have had as a teenager comes out in Luther a little bit. Or at least, I can tap into it when I need to. But I have to dial that right up because Luther is an emotional guy, which I’m not. I bottle things up inside as opposed to letting them out like he does. I’ve been with my wife for about 11 years and during that time she’s seen me cry once, maybe. That’s not something that I can access easily as Tom, but with Luther I can tap into it. Then, as soon as I step off set, I let it go.
What about your own family dynamics? Luther is the oldest, is that something that you share? Or are you just totally different?
That’s a tricky one. I’m one of four siblings, but only me and my elder brother have the same mum. My younger brother and sister are from my dad’s second marriage. So in the household that I grew up in I was the youngest, but I’m also an older brother to my two other siblings. In that sense I’ve experienced what it’s like to be both — to be the baby and then also what it’s like to be something of a mentor. But the only thing I associate with Luther and The Academy is that I know what it’s like to be a sibling, and I know what sibling rivalry is like. Luther and Diego in particular have a deep-set, brotherly rivalry. They’re probably just as close as Luther and Allison are , it just comes across with a lot of bravado so they end up fighting.
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Would you say that you’re a leader?
I like to think that I lead by example, but Luther can be quite bullheaded. That was actually one of the biggest struggles I had while playing Luther. I constantly questioned him. He feels like he’s got to make his stamp as number one, and I don’t always agree with his moves from a moral standpoint. But that’s the whole point, you have to put your character in those situations. It’s quite interesting to see how your own moral compass comes into play sometimes.
How else did you prepare for the role, and how has the preparation been different for season two?
I was the first person to be cast in the show. When Steve Blackburn, our amazing showrunner, talked me through Luther’s physicality, he said: “I’d like you to get as big as you can.” He was planning to put prosthetics on top of my own body, so I started hitting the food and the weights really hard. I did it all through clean eating as I don’t eat any junk or sugar, so I was having a lot of sweet potatoes and avocados just to get the extra calories in! But when we were just a few weeks away from shooting, Steve called me up to say that we were going to use a bodysuit as prosthetics would require three hours in makeup. I certainly wasn’t close to the size of the muscle suit that we used, but I’d gotten pretty big. If you look at the end of season one compared to the beginning, you can tell how much leaner I am — I’d obviously been hammering so much food! I also did a lot of fight training, which I do all year round anyway.
Just for fun?
For fun, for fitness, for general wellbeing. Whenever I’ve got a project coming up I double down on my martial arts because I want to be as prepared as possible. Fighting is great for keeping your body moving the way that it should be. It’s great for flexibility.
When you got back to filming, what was the dynamic like on set?
It’s pretty great. We’re very fortunate on our set because everyone is willing to play around and have fun, from the cast to the crew. We’re encouraged to be playful because that’s the kind of show The Umbrella Academy is. Steve is great at getting us to play around with words. That’s when things really start to evolve. It never gets boring — especially when you have Rob Sheehan throwing curveballs at you, which I love.
What kind of curve balls does he throw at you?
He likes to keep you guessing. You might end up doing the same thing for five takes, but then out of nowhere he’ll just throw a completely different line at you. It’s almost like he’s trying to make you laugh, which definitely keeps me on my toes.
You two are launching a podcast together. What will that be about?
Yes, it’s coming out shortly after the show. It’s called Earth Locker. We decided to launch it because we wanted to try and educate people about certain things that they might not be exposed to. We’re very fortunate because we have access to certain doctors and specialists through our work. It’s got a really playful element to it, but it’s also quite Joe Rogan in style as we’re putting some great information out there. We speak to athletes, health specialists, environmentalists… All with the aim of helping people become better earthlings.
The Umbrella Academy is riding a new wave of popularity for TV shows about fantasy, heroes and the state of the universe. You’ve really found yourself in that genre — not just in this show but in Game of Thrones, Merlin and Black Sails. Why do you think this resurgence is happening? And why do you think you’re at the centre of it?
All of those shows have a brilliant mix of characters that people can relate to. If people can see themselves in these larger than life characters, through the scenarios that those characters are put in, you can really feel like you’re on a fantasy journey with them. I suppose my physicality has something to do with why I’m cast in these roles, which often require warrior-types, fighters and horsemen. But for me, I just want to know a character’s story. That’s what was so appealing about The Umbrella Academy: the superhero element almost feels like an afterthought. It’s really just about a group of people who are dealing with their traumatic childhoods, and that really appealed to me.
And finally, what’s next for you?
Obviously the podcast has been taking up a lot of my time, but I also did a couple of movies last year which will be out soon. One of them is The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard with Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek. The other is a movie called [SAS:] Red Notice with Sam Heughan, which is based on an Andy McNab novel. I’m also about to start filming another film, but I can’t tell you about that yet! And then I have my production company, Pine Tree Productions, which I started with my wife Laura and my producing partner Sam Rosati last year. It’s a new side of the business that I’m really enjoying, one that also gives you a certain element of control, which you don’t always have as an actor.
You sound busy!
I am! Especially with being a dad as well. I’m also writing my first book, which is all about living a healthy lifestyle. Anyone who’s written a book will know that it takes up a serious amount of time… But it’s fun! I enjoy it all.
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